Mennonite Pacifism and the Legitimacy of U.S. Wars

by Berry Friesen Berry f

Ray McGovern, a born and bred Roman Catholic, writes commentary related to international relations for “Tell the Word,” a ministry of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington, D.C.  His work is published regularly by, a left-leaning group, and by, which has a Libertarian bent.

To mark the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, McGovern has been writing about the deceit that fostered public support for that action.  One of his February columns recalls that Hussein Kamel, a son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, defected to the West in 1995.  Kamel ran Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs for ten years prior to his defection and provided Western intelligence agencies with details confirming the destruction of all of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons and related delivery systems.

A second of McGovern’s articles recalls that Naji Sabri, Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister, and Tahir Jalil Habbush, Saddam’s chief of Iraqi intelligence, worked for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the time immediately preceding the invasion.  These two men confirmed what top U.S. officials had known ever since the Kamel briefing:  Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

Thus, the countless alarms sounded by President Bush and members of his administration during 2002 and early 2003 were not based on a good faith attempt to interpret conflicting intelligence reports.  Those alarms were deliberate lies.

The U.S. media collaborated fully in this deception.   Eleven days before the invasion, Muhamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency reported there was zero evidence that Saddam had taken any steps to develop nuclear weapons since losing the Gulf War in 1991.  Although ElBaradei’s report struck at the heart of the case for war, the mainstream U.S. media found it unworthy of reporting.

1040 for Peace, a local group in which I am active, is enthusiastic about McGovern’s work. Our mission is to encourage popular dissent from a U.S. foreign policy that uses propaganda, military domination and violence to impose its will on the world.  Our intended audience includes pacifists and just war adherents, Jesus-followers and nonbelievers.  McGovern, through his 27 years of working as a CIA analyst, is a highly credible source whose knowledge of the system and its frequent deceptions can help people understand the thrust of U.S. foreign policy.  That clarity is what we aimed for last fall when we brought McGovern to Lancaster to speak at a public meeting in a Mennonite church.

Problem is, most Mennonites seem disinterested in the kind of detailed information McGovern provides.  As best I can tell, one rationale is that such details are superfluous: “We oppose all wars, including the one in Iraq.  Why do we need to concern ourselves with the lies that led up to this one?”  Furthermore, by taking the high road of principled pacifism, Mennonites can avoid the political controversy that would follow more detailed analysis.

Now if it is merely our own righteousness that is at stake, then this dismissal of attention to “details” may be warranted.  But what if the lives of many thousands of people are at stake?  If the march to war against Iraq is delegitimized, might that not prevent a deceitful march to war against Iran?   Shouldn’t that be of great interest to peace-loving people?

Many have observed that when it comes to war, what modern governments most want from us is simply acquiescence.  Yes, governments want some of us to volunteer to fight but only if we are truly gung-ho about it.  And yes, governments want our taxes but if there is not enough tax revenue, they simply will finance the wars by borrowing more money.  What’s most critical is that we not reject the legitimacy of its policy, the “good faith” of its leaders.   Because when that happens, the powerful spell of “righteous violence” is broken.

As an historic peace church, we largely stand outside this vital dynamic.  Yes, we will oppose the next war just as we did the last but our categorical opposition will leave the legitimacy of the violence intact.  We will be perceived simply to be doing what pacifists do.  Until many more people become pacifists, it will be viewed as inconsequential.

Now I recognize that faithfulness to the way of Jesus is not to be reckoned by how consequential it is.  Nevertheless, I cannot accept the view that we faithfully bear witness to Messiah Jesus while leaving unchallenged the legitimacy of wars of aggression against innocent people.  It is our neighbors and friends who are being caught up in the false narratives of war’s necessity.  Do we not serve them in the name of Christ when we expose the deceptions?

The record is clear on Iraq:  U.S. leaders did not proceed in good faith but proceeded with deceitful malice to implement a plan that led to the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of people.  It was a war crime similar to the worst acts of war committed by Nazi Germany and Soviet Communism.

If we care to look closely, we also are likely to find Western operatives used violence to ignite the unrest in Libya and Syria and tip those volatile societies into open war.

And if we care to look ahead, we can see Iran is slated to be the next victim.

In the face of such evil, we can retreat into the comfort of our categorical purity or we can begin to recognize how the work of delegitimizing these abhorrent policies is a part of our calling as disciples of Jesus.  Nearly all of us have opportunities to engage neighbors, colleagues and family members in conversations about these matters.  Many of us can write letters to our local newspapers calling attention to the ways U.S. foreign policy betrays the values we claim. Mennonite publishers can seek content that calls into question the misleading claims published by the popular press.  Our pastors can include instances of public deception as examples in their sermons.

Just how such talk will be consequential is far from clear because the public relations campaign supporting U.S. aggression appears to be overwhelming.  But our calling is to bear witness to the hope that is within us. And surely our dissent from the legitimacy of aggression is an important part of such a witness.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s